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by Sean Aitchison,

Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons Graphic Novel Review

Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons Graphic Novel Review
In search of the Dead Bishop's Treasure, Sir Francis Drake and his crew set sail for places where man best not be traveling, for there be dragons in those waters. From writer Frank Tiero and Artist Inaki Miranda (with colors by Eva de la Cruz and lettering by Nathand Widick), Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons tells the tale of an expedition's fateful voyage to the legendary Monster Island, where Godzilla reigns as king of the Kaiju.

The elevator pitch for Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons is fantastic—a voyage of Sir Francis Drake to find the Dead Bishop's treasure, only to find forbidden seas filled with the kaiju of the Godzilla franchise, presented as a pirate's tall tale by a survivor of the voyage. It's a brilliant setup that explores a different angle of the world of Godzilla—how long have the kaiju been around, and how many famous explorers circumnavigating the globe have encountered the various monsters?

At first, the comic delivers on this premise but fails to stick to the landing. There are a few too many plot elements fumbling its otherwise strong setup and execution. The story of Here There Be Dragons, a clever and enticing title derived from explorers maps of ye olde times, is told by Henry Hull, a soon-to-be-hanged pirate seemingly looking to stave off death (and get a drink) by spinning a tale for his captors about his journey with Sir Francis Drake to find Monster Island.

There's a lot to love about this specific element of the comic—the setting and storytelling breed an entertaining, fascinating look into the beliefs and mythology of the time period. In the 1500s, the giant lobsters and turtles Hull tells of in his tale are make-believe, but dragons? Those are real, they're in the bible after all. To deny the existence of them is blasphemy! Lines like "Next you'll be telling me you believe the earth revolves around the sun!" and calling pirates a superstitious lot in response to the grand events of Hull's tale both poke fun at the period and serve to firmly plant the story there. The encounters on Monster Island could very well have happened in the minds of these people, and inserting Godzilla into the role of ye olde legend is a brilliant premise.

However, the story quickly moves away from the fun and potential of the interactions between man and ancient beasts. To be fair, the intrigue of Hull's story is well done—I was pulled in even when Godzilla was not in focus, but that only took me so far as more and more (in my eyes, unnecessary) layers were added to the plot: Specifically the revenge story of Captain Cortez Blanco and the Sons of Giants—a kaiju-worshipping conspiracy ring.

There's just not much to the Blanco revenge plot; his wife and child died when Drake's attack on a Spanish supply ship killed them, and he coincidentally (there's A LOT of coincidences in this book) washes up on the shores of Monster Island. He then hunts down Drake while they search for the treasure and deal with kaiju. It's nothing. It's a shoehorned-in element that only serves to cause a dual fight in the climax: Blanco and Drake fight while Godzilla and Ebirah fight. It's neat in concept but bland in execution.

Then comes The Sons of Giants. They have been around for centuries, seeking to protect and worship the kaiju—specifically hailing Godzilla as their king. Their presence is breadcrumbed throughout the first few issues and expanded upon in Issue #4 before coming to a head in the final twist. And that's my issue with it—the Sons of Giants are just there to be a twist ending.

It feels out of left field and undermines the massive potential that comes from the concept born from the phrase "Here There Be Dragons"—i.e., what if the dragons we used to draw on maps were not just a representation of where men feared to go but marked where REAL dragons were instead. Instead, it's a "treasure hunt and a revenge fight... and Godzilla is here, too."

Perhaps I'm just thinking about how I would do it instead of providing a critique, but if Godzilla could be removed from your story and very little changes, is it really a Godzilla story? This is what ultimately turned me off from the series. It feels like Godzilla is just an obstacle and not a very big one at that, and if recent Godzilla films (Shin Godzilla and Godzilla Minus One) have shown us anything, it's that Godzilla is more than that. Having fun with the setting and nature of a pirate's tale can only take this premise so far—and after the first three issues, it takes an unfortunate and disappointing downturn.

Here There Be Dragons also has a significant problem with happenstance and coincidence, either solving conflicts or providing accessible information to the characters. The aforementioned coincidence of Blanco washing up on the shore of Monster Island is far too convenient and has little payoff. Similarly, there is the 1500s voyage happening upon dynamite from a 1300s ship (dynamite was not invented until 1867) exactly when they need it to defeat Ebirah. Additionally, all the information they need to know about the island is quickly learned from a journal they find amongst the Dead Pope's Treasure—and the ancient temple ruins they find on the island literally list all the monsters' names in English for them. Not to sound like a broken record, but the title is "Here There Be Dragons," they should know nothing about these monsters, and that should be the element of fear—don't introduce the characters to the frightening unknown and immediately follow up with a complete explanation of it.

Despite all my issues with the story, Inaki Miranda's art and Eva de la Cruz's colors are fantastic. Miranda is great at depicting the kaiju as animalistic, with these effective empty stares like Minus One's Godzilla had. I absolutely love how Henry Hull and the other pirates are designed. Cruz's color is spectacular, balancing bright monster colors with classic Godzilla coloring and that sepia tone we all associate with ye olde maps and pirate adventures. Visually, this book is excellent, making its missed potential even more disappointing.

Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons is a brilliant premise on paper, and while I didn't care for how it played out, I would say it's worth checking out to make your judgment on the execution of a cool idea—as well for the great artwork.

Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : A

+ Starts off strong and uses its time period/setting well to make the Godzilla/Kaiju encounters feel like a real pirate story.
Ultimately tangles itself with too many plot threads and overly-convenient elements that cause the final issues to fizzle out

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